5 Changes MLS Can Make To Reach A Sensible, European (Ish) Schedule


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The 2023 Concacaf Nations League Finals. The 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup. The Inaugural Leagues Cup. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

All of these competitions have captured or will capture the attention of the American soccer public between the start of June and the end of August. And with the 2024 Copa America, 2025 FIFA Club World Cup, 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup and 2028 Olympic Games all coming to American soil, this is going to be the norm for summers in the near future rather than the exception

Through it all, MLS has plowed through on a spring-to-fall schedule, resisting the idea of a calendar that aligns more closely with the spring-to-fall format of the top European leagues (and neighboring Mexico, to a lesser extent.)

There is credible rationale for doing so, with a large swath of American and Canadian MLS markets weathering harsher winters on average than most of their European counterparts. Additionally, while attendance at MLS games continues to be solid, it is comprises a smaller diehard base fans willing to show up in any conditions than, say, NFL fans attending a late-season December or January playoff game.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the current status quo of plowing through the summer and acting like there isn’t more important soccer going on — often involving the league’s own players who contribute to multiple national teams — can’t be good for the league or its clubs.

And for a few reasons, there’s more ways the league should be able to arrive at a better solution now than in its early days when it had next to no presence in a large swath of the United States and in particular the Southeast.

Here’s five changes the league can make to help its schedule fall in line with the rest of the world while also having it make sense for most of its clubs.

Split the MLS season in two

This has been written about before, but playing a fall MLS season and a spring MLS season would bring the league in line with most Concacaf competitions — including Liga MX — and have other added benefits.

For starters, MLS could revert to its highly compelling and much more consistent single-elimination playoff format and still arrive rather easily at a number of annual playoff games that meets Apple TV’s satisfaction. Imagine a 20-team playoff where the top finisher in each conference gets a double bye to the third round and finishers 2-4 in each conference get a single bye.

That would make for 19 postseason games each split season, or 38 each year, more than currently exists in this year’s revised MLS Cup Playoff format. It would also make the regular season games more compelling by limiting the margin for error in each individual game and providing more incentives for finishing in the higher positions. And it could be easily played in a three-week span to make the single and double byes even more advantageous in terms of allowing teams to be fresher.

The spring season could start in early February, with the playoffs contested in the final three weeks of May. The fall season could start in early August, with the playoffs contested beginning with last full week of November.

June and July would be dark months, but only sort of. In a manner similar to most European clubs, preseason would begin in early July for players that weren’t in international competitions. The latter portion of July would be free for MLS teams to schedule higher profile preseason friendlies against the European clubs that regularly visit before their club seasons.

Move the USOC and CanChamp later

Because the fall league schedule would be slightly less compressed and wouldn’t run in conjunction with the Concacaf Champions Cup, it makes more sense to contest the U.S. Open Cup during this time. Additionally, it’s less likely that the lower divisions of American and Canadian soccer would shift away from playing through the summer, since there is less to gain in terms of avoiding a conflict. Generally speaking, those clubs aren’t competing for attention and resources with international competitions in the same way.

MLS teams could enter the Open Cup at the end of July the week before the fall season begins, with a final contested a couple of weeks before Decision Day. Canadian teams could follow a similar schedule for CanChamp.

Play Leagues Cup in January

The idea behind the tournament that will combine every top division side from Canada, the United States and Mexico is a good one. The execution so far is poor.

From a scheduling perspective, the beauty of the Leagues Cup is that it can theoretically be played anywhere and therefore is time flexible. But the leagues have chosen to contest the tournament in the summer break between Liga MX’s split seasons, when doing so during the league’s winter break would make more sense for several reasons.

Firstly, Mexico’s summer break is longer, which makes Leagues Cup feel more like a preseason event for the competing Liga MX clubs. The Mexican winter break would have to be stretched by a couple weeks to fit the League Cup into the schedule, but it’s certainly workable.

If you contested Leagues Cup in warm-weather American markets beginning in the first week of January, it would make for a fairer fight in terms of competitiveness and also solve the problem of finding a way to play something closer to a fall-to-spring schedule for MLS clubs while preventing cold-weather regular season games in late December and January.

Additionally, this wouldn’t necessarily result in players spending more time away from families, because teams typically spend a month of the winter away for preseason anyway. With a longer break in the summer, preseason camps could be held mostly at home unless there’s a compelling reason not to.

Expand to 32 teams ASAP

This might seem out of left field. But most of the likely candidates for further MLS expansion are in warmer weather markets. And adding teams sooner than later would add to the portion of the league’s clubs where hosting February matches wouldn’t feel like a major imposition.

Let’s say Las Vegas and Phoenix or Sacramento land the 31st and 32nd clubs. That brings you to 17 clubs — or more than half of the league— where the average low temperature in February is above freezing or where the team plays indoors. (This doesn’t include CF Montreal or potentially Toronto FC, who could both theoretically utilize other domed stadiums in their cities for a couple games a year.)

This gives you considerably more flexibility to limit the number of home games in cold weather markets in February when the spring season begins.

Allow daytime kickoffs in colder markets

In the first season of MLS’ 10-year agreement with Apple TV, the league and its new world-wide streaming partner have implemented a relatively rigid schedule where the overwhelming majority of games begin at 7:30 pm local time on Saturday or Wednesday night.

There’s some wisdom to claiming that time slot of their own, but the policy could benefit from more flexibility. (And it’s possible MLS imagined there would be more games outside the Saturday night window before ESPN and Univision decided not to renew lineal TV agreements).

To enable a schedule like the one proposed here, the league should allow 2:30 p.m. ET local kickoffs in any market on a day when the historic average low is below 32 degrees farenheit. This time slot that would fit in neatly after the end of the popular English Premier League Saturday slate and before most of MLS’ late-afternoon national broadcasts. It would not mean any morning kickoffs, since none of the markets affected are in the Pacific Time Zone. And it would result in considerably better conditions for fans attending the games and therefore a better TV product.

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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